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Commissioner Bettman Discusses Season Restart, Draft Scenarios

As many as four NHL arenas would host three games each per day without fans in one of the scenarios the League is considering to finish the season, Commissioner Gary Bettman told Sportsnet last week.

The NHL, which paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, also floated the idea to the general managers of holding the 2020 NHL Draft in June before the season ends.

“It was a trial balloon,” Commissioner Bettman said of the draft proposal. “No decision has been made. And I said as we were getting some feedback, ‘We don’t live in a world of perfect anymore. We’re going to have to make adjustments.’

“Ideally from our standpoint — and it would resolve a lot of issues — would be if we could complete the regular season, even if it’s on a centralized basis, and then go into the [Stanley Cup Playoffs] the way we normally play them.

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“That would be ideal. But that’s, again, one of the numerous models we’re looking at, and if we can’t do ideal, if we can’t do perfect, we’re going to have to figure out what’s next to perfect.”

The NHL has decided against playing in non-NHL arenas at neutral sites because League arenas are best equipped to handle its needs if it decides to centralize games.

“We can’t play in a small college rink in the middle of a smaller community, because if we’re going to be centralized, we need the back of the house that NHL arenas provide, whether it’s multiple locker rooms, whether it’s the technology, the procedures, the boards and glass, the video replay, the broadcasting facilities,” Commissioner Bettman said.

The NHL would need four NHL-caliber locker rooms in each arena, because if it plays three games per day in one arena, it would need to use appropriate sanitizing procedures as teams move in and out, the Commissioner said.

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Commissioner Bettman stressed the number of cities and the locations have not been decided. The NHL is modeling to make sure it is prepared for any eventuality.

“Maybe it’ll be two cities,” the Commissioner said. “It’s not something that we can predict right at this moment. But this is part of the contingencies. It doesn’t necessarily have to be by division, although the centralization may be by division.

“But the particular location could be anywhere that isn’t a hot spot and has what we need both in terms of the arena and having practice facilities, because if you bring in seven or eight clubs to a particular facility and you’re playing lots of games on a regular basis without travel, there does need to be ice for practice.”

The NHL has recommended players and staff self-quarantine through April 30. The first step toward resuming the season would be for players to work out at team facilities. The next step would be a training camp, which Commissioner Bettman said, based on a conversation with players and the NHL Players’ Association, would need to be at least three weeks.

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Commissioner Bettman said the NHL felt no pressure to be the first major North American sports league to resume its season.

“This isn’t a race,” the Commissioner said. “The stakes are too important. … While some of them may have been able to work out in terms of physical strength over the last few weeks, the fact is, none of our guys really have been on skates. We’re going to have to make sure that they’re in game-ready condition, because we don’t want to put them on the ice and risk injury and their careers. So we’re going to need time to come back right, and when we come back, it’ll be having done the right things.”

The idea of holding the draft before the season ends presents problems, such as determining the draft order and what to do with certain contingent draft picks. But waiting months to hold the draft would present another set of problems.

“That’s why you’ve got to look at all of the options, balance them and try to make a good judgment, and we’re doing it with the feedback from our clubs, obviously,” Commissioner Bettman said. “We’re not sitting around on our own saying, ‘This is what we’re doing, period.’”

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The NHL is also listening to the authorities.

“The decision ultimately will be made by medical people and people who are in governments at all different levels, so we’re not going to try and do anything that flies in the face of what we’re being told is appropriate,” the Commissioner said.

“… But clearly, we can play into the summer. Clearly, we can play next season, which we intend to do in its entirety, starting later. And so, with a lot of timing options, we have a great deal of flexibility, and we’re not going to rush anything. We’re not going to do anything that’s crazy. We’re going to try and do something, under the circumstances at the time, that is sensible.”

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